Russia, 15 Years After the Revolution

Rally in Russia

A rally in Moscow last month. What do you think they were talking about? [Antonis SHEN / Flickr]

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Fifteen years ago this month, Boris Yeltsin consigned the Soviet Union to the history books in what longtime Russia watcher Stephen Cohen calls “the most consequential event of the second half of the twentieth century.”

Tonight we’re asking: What can a decade and a half of hindsight tell us about that moment? What can we see more clearly now about what led up to it and what effect it’s had? How has the US narrative about the demise of the USSR solidified — and how different is the internal Russian conversation about its recent history? Was revolution inevitable, and if not, was it the best solution to Soviet problems? Stephen Cohen, for one, isn’t convinced that it was, on either count:

A large majority of Russians…regret the end of the Soviet Union, not because they pine for “Communism” but because they lost a familiar state and secure way of life. No less important, they do not share the nearly unanimous Western view that the Soviet Union’s “collapse” was “inevitable” because of inherent fatal defects. They believe instead, and for good reason, that three “subjective” factors broke it up: the way Gorbachev carried out his political and economic reforms; a power struggle in which Yeltsin overthrew the Soviet state in order to get rid of its president, Gorbachev; and property-seizing Soviet bureaucratic elites, the nomenklatura, who were more interested in “privatizing” the state’s enormous wealth in 1991 than in defending it.

Stephen Cohen, The Soviet Union, R.I.P.?, The Nation, 25 December 2006

Stephen Cohen

Professor of Russian Studies and History, NYU

Author, The Soviet Union, R.I.P.?, The Nation, 25 December 2006

Michael McFaul

Fellow, Hoover Institution

Professor of political science, Stanford University

Co-author, Between Dictatorship and Democracy: Russian Post-Communist Political Reform

Georgi Derluguian

Professor of sociology, Northwestern University

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